A federal judge in San Francisco today temporarily blocked a planned 10 percent cut in state payments to group homes for foster children.

The temporary restraining order issued against the state Social Services Department by U.S. District Judge Marilyn Patel will remain in effect until Patel holds a hearing Nov. 13 on a nonprofit group’s request for a preliminary injunction to continue blocking the cut.

The planned 10 percent reduction in payments was one of a series of cuts in social services enacted by the Legislature last summer in response to the state’s budget crisis.

Patel wrote that the state “is navigating a severe budgetary crisis … however, this temporary hardship does not outweigh the irreparable injury likely to be sustained by the foster children living in group homes that may have already begun terminating staff and cutting services.”

About 7,500 children statewide are in group foster homes.

Carroll Schroeder, executive director of the California Alliance of Child and Family Services, said most children in the homes are under court protection either because they were abused or neglected or because they are on probation for juvenile offenses.

The alliance, which represents 87 group homes serving up to 3,720 California children, filed a lawsuit to block the cut in September.

It claimed a 10 percent cut in already-low reimbursement rates to group homes would harm some of the most vulnerable children in the state and violate the U.S. Child Welfare Act.

The law requires states to make adequate “foster care maintenance payments” for basic items such as food and shelter as a condition of receiving some federal funding.

Patel wrote that the lawsuit raised “serious questions” as to whether the state is complying with the law.

Schroeder said the alliance was gratified by the ruling. He said, “Although rates are still inadequate, agencies will not be forced to choose between closing, significantly downsizing or providing substandard care for kids.”

Social Services Department spokeswoman Lizelda Lopez said the agency will comply with the order, but said, “The state will continue to defend this reduction in court.”

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